Confronting Lukewarm Worship
Welcome back to the podcast. Well, why does it sometimes seem that our worship is thinning out over time? And why does it seem that church worship grows flat over time as well? These are realities we all face at some point, and they lead us to consider the first implication of seeing and savoring the providence of God. With the release of Pastor John’s new book, Providence, for the next several weeks we are considering reasons why the providence of God, this precious doctrinal truth, is essential to how we live out our daily Christian lives. Last Wednesday we opened this new series in episode 1571, looking at why we must live aware of God’s providence. Now we get specific. There are ten real-life effects and implications. Here with the first implication is Pastor John.
The question we are posing is this: What are the real-life effects of knowing and loving, seeing and savoring the all-pervasive, all-embracing providence of the ever-wise, ever-just, ever-merciful God of Scripture? That’s our question.
Do We Really Know Him?
And my first answer is this: seeing and savoring this providence awakens and sustains wonder and awe and holy reverence, and the kind of trembling joy that leads us into the depth of true, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated worship. How many times have people asked us on this podcast about their lukewarmness? About how inadequate their affections are for God? About how passion and zeal and joy could possibly be rekindled? And now I’m asking: Do you know him? And I mean the real, true, magnificent, mouth-stopping God of all-embracing providence.
“God has shown us in the Bible more of himself and more of his ways than we will ever exhaust in this world.”
When I was in college, I struggled with those same things. I read a book by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small. I knew it was true. But you can’t just snap your fingers and see the majesty of God. I was blind to the all-pervasive, all-embracing providence of God — the grandeur of the all-governing, purposeful sovereignty of God. I had, in fact, been taught not to see the actual ruling God, the omnipotence of God, as it is in the Bible. The God of the Bible, that’s what I had missed — the God who really is. It was as if glasses had been put on my face that shrank everything down, except maybe for myself. The glasses made God manageable.
Now, within a couple of years after reading Your God Is Too Small — thank God; I to this day thank God — some professors grabbed me by the hair, and rubbed my nose in the book of Romans, and wouldn’t let me up until I had seen and smelled and tasted and been stunned by the God of Romans 8 and 9. All praise to God, I say. All praise to God for those who would not let me escape from Scripture into some philosophical detour that strips God of the glory of his all-governing providence.
Starving for the Greatness of God
My heart aches to this day — in fact, I got a letter just the other day from a pastor who is leaving his church because the elders wanted to go in a new seeker direction. My heart aches for so many churches bent on being lightweight, seeker-friendly churches, while their people are starving. They don’t know what they’re starving for, but they’re starving for the greatness of God.
David Wells, 25 years ago, in his book No Place For Truth, put it like this: “It is this God, majestic and holy in his being, this God whose love knows no bounds because his holiness knows no limits, who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world” (300). Well, yes, that’s an overstatement, but it’s not without warrant.
Lesslie Newbigin from the British angle said the same thing. He said, “I suddenly saw that someone could use all the language of evangelical Christianity, and yet the center was fundamentally the self. . . . And God is auxiliary to that” (“God’s Missionary to Us”). True worship is ruined, reduced, gutted, flattened, when the majesty of God, especially seen in his all-embracing providence, is replaced with a focus on me and my world, and how God can make me the center of his focus rather than making his greatness the focus of mine.
“Seeing and savoring God’s providence awakens and sustains wonder and awe and holy reverence.”
If we see and savor the biblical panorama of the providence of God for what it really is, we will lift our hands in silence, groping for words that do not feel pitiful before his majesty. He is great beyond our comprehension. God has shown us in the Bible more of himself and more of his ways than we will ever exhaust in this world. I have filled a book, a seven-hundred-page book on providence, by simply tracing his counterintuitive wonders through Scripture.
God has not been sparing in his revelation of his splendors. They are meant to make us soar and sing over the purposeful sovereignty of God. And how can we not be God-besotted when every day we are immersed in an ocean of God-given, God-governed, God-revealing wonders, as we are every day?
Saints Moved to Worship
Did not Hannah sing — I’m underlining worship now — over this providence?
The Lord kills and brings to life. . . .
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts. (1 Samuel 2:6–7)
Did not Miriam sing over this providence?
The horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:21)
Did not Moses follow her in song over this providence?
Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea. . . .
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries. . . .
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:4, 7, 11)
And did not the psalmists sing and sing and sing over this providence?
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10–11)
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire. (Psalm 46:9)
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:6)
And did not Mary the mother of Jesus sing over this providence in Luke 1?
[The Lord] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate. (Luke 1:51–52)
That’s Mary talking. Oh, bless her. No wonder we call her Blessed Virgin. And did not Paul sing over this providence?
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)
See, Savor, Sing
If there are believers or churches whose worship feels thin and passive and routine, could it be that they just do not know this providence, this God? So, real-life effect number one, at least in my life — and I have seen it true in hundreds — real-life effect number one of seeing and savoring the providence of God is this: it awakens and sustains wonder and awe and holy reverence, and a kind of trembling joy, that leads us into the depth of true, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, soaring-with-song worship.